High Court Declares Life Sentence Archaic; Reduces Sentence for Incest Convict

March 26, 2024

High Court judge Nixon Sifuna has declared life sentences are archaic and incompatible with modern societal values.

In this landmark ruling, the judge stated that life imprisonment demeans convicts and undermines the right to human dignity enshrined in Article 28 of the Kenyan Constitution 2010.

“For the aforegoing reasons, I find that the life sentence is not only archaic in the present civilization, but also unreasonable and absurd. It is also an undignifying sentence, hence violates the right to human dignity, guaranteed under Article 28 of the Kenya Constitution 2010,” Sifuna declared.

The ruling stems from an appeal lodged by Justus Ndung’u, who was convicted of incest under section 20 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act by a Kigumo Senior Resident Magistrate.

Ndung’u was found to have committed the offense of defiling his 10-year-old daughter on May 18, 2017, at Wemba Location in Murang’a County, resulting in his sentencing to life imprisonment.

In delivering the judgment, Justice Sifuna contended that life imprisonment is misleading and akin to a death sentence. He characterized it as an indefinite and immeasurable punishment that deprives the convict of any prospect of eventual release.

“Whereas it is philosophically and supposedly imprisonment for a duration of time only, it is in actual sense imprisonment that is indeterminable, indefinite, uncompletable, mathematically incalculable, and therefore quantifiable only for the convict’s entire remainder of his lifetime. It is a deceptive sentence, in that one commences it thinking that he will one day complete it and be released from prison.”

“Later he realizes that it is imprisonment he can never and will never complete or fully serve, no matter how hard he serves or keeps counting days. The more he races to complete it, the longer and eternally elusive it becomes. The more he serves it, the more it drifts ayonder to beyond the horizons. Logically, after serving it for long, he stops serving it and lets the sentence serve him and remain his lifestyle for the entire remainder of your lifetime!” Justice Sifuna explained.

The High Court affirmed the trial court’s earlier conviction of Ndung’u on the incest charges. Nonetheless, his sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison.

“Having found that the trial court properly convicted the Appellant, his Appeal on conviction fails, and I uphold the said conviction accordingly. As to the life sentence that the Appellant is currently serving, I set it aside and substitute it with a sentence of 10 imprisonment, effective from 21st July 2022,” the Judge ruled.

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